HomeThe CSWD BlogGeneral Topics7 useful gifts to help your friends cut food waste

7 useful gifts to help your friends cut food waste

You probably already know that food waste is a pretty big issue these days.

HBO talk show host Jon Oliver shared his outrage over food waste earlier this year (viewer warning: Jon swears a lot).

Europe’s 3rd largest supermarket chain started doing something about food waste by selling – and celebrating – ugly fruit.

Here at home in Chittenden County we’ve seen a surge in action, too. Donations to the VT Foodbank are up 30% (90 tons) year-to-date! People really are excited to do what they can to reduce landfill waste and manage their own impact in a responsible way. Residents are lining up to bring their food scraps to our drop-off composting program, and our backyard composting workshops are consistently packed.

The Vermont legislature unanimously passed Act 148 (Vermont’s Universal Recycling & Composting Law)—when was the last time you heard of any law being passed unanimously??—and businesses are jumping on board, too. If you haven’t seen it yet, we just published a list of restaurants, hotels and other businesses in our county that have committed to stopping food waste.

If you’re as excited about fighting food waste as we are, then these ideas may help you pick out the perfect gift for a friend or family member. Or even better, it may give you an idea for a gift you can make yourself! See the DIY versions of each gift below in gray for homemade alternatives.

(Note: We aren’t endorsing any of these specific products, though we did choose to show only products that had a high customer rating. These are just ideas that we hope will help you find what you’re looking for. )

 

1. A cookbook for leftovers

Some people among us are blessed with a talent for repurposing old food into new, beautiful, tasty dishes.

Others learned to loathe leftovers because they grew up with a mom who turned second-round dishes into a weekly meal they not-so-affectionately called “Train Wreck.” (I still love you, Mom!)

Sometimes all you need to get a habit going is a little guidance—someone to hold your hand until your own creative juices start flowing. There are a number of “leftover cookbooks” out there that are designed to help you reduce your food waste in an easy and delicious way. Love Your Leftovers gives you a recipe for a main dish, plus 8-10 recipes you can make using the leftovers from that dish.

DIY version: There are loads of leftover recipes online. If your friend loves to eat a particular food, find some recipes specific to their taste! Print the recipes out and bind them into a little handmade recipe book of your own. (You’re so thoughtful!)

 

Cover of a cookbook that helps prevent food waste

2. A reusable coffee or tea mug

If you’ve seen our most recent TV ad, you’ll know that paper cups (like coffee cups) aren’t recyclable – they belong in the trash. “Hey!” You might be saying. “Those don’t prevent food waste. It’s the coffee cup that people throw away!” I hear you. But insulated coffee mugs do double duty; they also keep coffee or tea hot much longer than a paper cup does, which prevents someone from tossing their cold coffee down the drain!

DIY version: Knit or sew a colorful sleeve that will slip over a mason jar, and voila! (Don’t forget the mason jar lid.) One of the best things about this DIY version is that if any part of it breaks, it’s really cheap & easy to find a replacement.

Reusable travel coffee mug that helps prevent waste

3. A food dehydrator

Water is essential to life – and that includes the life of bacteria and mold. One way to keep food from spoiling is to get rid of all of the water inside of it! Banana chips, beef jerky, or dried blueberries for your morning yogurt—dehydrated foods are really easy to make and they last for a very long time. There are tons of creative recipes online that will show you how to use a dehydrator in ways you probably never thought of!

DIY version: Dehydrators work on a pretty simple principle: low heat and good air circulation. You can actually dehydrate food in your oven on low heat, though it will probably use more electricity or gas than necessary. I once made a delicious batch of beef jerky using a cardboard box, a computer fan, and a lightbulb! You can find DIY plans that are as complicated as you want them to be. (See How to Build a Food Dehydrator.)

A food dehydrator with fruits visible

4. A vacuum sealer

Air is another enemy of food preservation, even in the freezer. By removing all of the air from the containers you put your food in, you’ll make it last a lot longer without any risk of freezer burn or ice buildup. A vacuum sealer sucks all of the air out of a plastic bag and seals it shut with a built-in heating element.

DIY version: Some of the DIY plans online are pretty complicated—cost about $200 to make. At that point, it’s pretty much just to prove that you can. Though a box of Ziploc bags may not be everyone’s ideal gift, when you share this method of vacuum sealing their own bags, maybe they’ll change their mind. Of course, some tiny amount of air will likely still get trapped in if you’re sealing it yourself. For the perfectionist friend, you may need to spring for a version that’s built specifically for the job.

A vacuum sealer with a sealed bag of vegetables

5. Fermentation crocks

Fermenting foods is one of the most ancient methods of preserving foods, and it’s incredibly easy. Kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles are three common fermented foods (though commercial versions are usually made with vinegar, and ultra-pasteurized). As well as making food last longer, it may also make the vitamins and minerals in your food more accessible! All you need to start fermenting are vegetables (and some types of fruit), salt, water (which will often come from the vegetable itself), and a special container that will allow air to escape—but doesn’t let air in. (The fermenting process produces gases that need to get out.) Fermenting crocks allow you to ferment large quantities of vegetables at once, and can keep food from spoiling for up to 18 months!

DIY version: Mason jars are perfectly suitable fermenting vessels, since their lids are designed to allow air to escape. Technically, unless you’re blowing your own glass jars, this isn’t a do-it-yourself version. But it’s a lot cheaper than specially made crock fermenters.

Pickling crocks on countertop preserving food to prevent food waste

6. Reusable produce bags

In addition to being just simply wasteful, plastic produce bags don’t allow fruits & veggies to “breathe.” Reusable produce bags are made of a mesh material that allows natural gases to escape from the fruit or vegetable inside—gases that signal the food that it’s time to decay. Allowing the gases to escape lets the fruit or veggie live a longer, more delicious life—particularly in your crisper drawer.

DIY version: You can easily make your own cotton, linen, or other cloth bags that allow the fruits & veggies to “breathe.” If you like, sew a drawstring into the top to keep food from rolling out. See simple instructions from Imperfect Homemaking.

Reusable produce bags full of fruits and vegetables

7. Durable food containers

When someone has a variety of container sizes, they’re more likely to have the right size container nearby. And when someone has the right size container nearby, they’re more likely to toss half a tomato into it, rather than into the compost (or – gasp! – the trash). Preserve makes all of their containers out of 100% recycled plastic (and they’re also recyclable), and they make some unique smaller sizes that are perfect for half of an onion, or a handful of nuts. They’re available locally at City Market and Healthy Living. Some companies, like Always Fresh Containers, even produce containers that purportedly increase the lifespan of refrigerated fruits & vegetables by absorbing the gases that cause foods to spoil.

DIY version: I don’t have a great DIY option here, though any type of container could obviously work. Reusing containers from the grocery store is a popular option for some. For me, I spent my whole childhood unsure which of the 3 Country Crock butter containers in the fridge actually contained butter, and which were full of leftover Train Wreck. That was never a fun surprise, so I only reuse clear plastic containers now. (My Tupperware drawer is full of clear containers from the bulk olive bar. I love olives.)

 

green Preserve food storage containers that reduce food waste

Thanks for reading! Do you have a better gift idea than the ones you see here? Let us know! We’ll add it to the next gift idea list. :)

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Jonny
Jonny
Marketing & Communications Manager at CSWD
Jonny joined CSWD in 2014 after several years abroad where he ran websites, film projects, classrooms, and half marathons. Originally from Virginia, he was drawn to Vermont's strong sense of community, apple cider, and the search for Champ.